Dominik Heilig (centre) displays an illustration of the Scotty Creek fire with researchers Kyle Arndt (left) and Oliver Sonnentag. Megan Miskiman/Cabin Radio
An illustrator is joining work to repair an NWT research station hit by a wildfire, with the intention of eventually creating a graphic novel about the site.
Berlin-based Dominik Heilig will be part of the team as repairs take place at Scotty Creek, a Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation-led research station that suffered major wildfire damage in the fall.
Heilig first heard about the fire in December during a call with Oliver Sonnentag, a longtime friend who conducts research at Scotty Creek.
“As an illustrator, I had so many images in my head,” said Heilig.
“I felt like I wanted to do something about it because it’s adventure, but it’s also talking about climate change, so it’s a really important global topic.”
Much of the work done at Scotty Creek focuses on the effects of climate change on the North. The wildfire that consumed the station in October last year was so unusual – coming extraordinarily late in the season – that authorities have linked the fire itself to climate change, too.
The team now heading out to the site intends to fix a damaged eddy covariance tower, a piece of equipment that takes a range of atmospheric measurements, as one of the first steps toward re-establishing Scotty Creek.
Heilig hopes a book can tell the story of Scotty Creek’s destruction and the rebuilding process, showcasing the scientific side through infographics that he said could be used in schools.
He has invited Dehcho-based Dene filmmaker Jonathan Antoine to help create an animation that will accompany the graphic novel. Both ideas are in their early stages, he said.
Sonnentag, an associate professor at the University of Montreal, says repairing the station effectively means starting all over again.
“The first version of Scotty Creek doesn’t exist as we know it any more,” he told Cabin Radio.
“The situation has changed fundamentally, not just in terms of landscape, but also how the research is done and managed at the site.”
There’s a reason for fixing the eddy covariance tower first: it’s a key piece of equipment for studying the site’s recovery from the fire.
“We have five or six days to get the tower operational, because now the interesting question is: how does this type of ecosystem recover immediately after a fire?” Sonnentag explained.
“If we want to understand that, we have to do it now and not in two or three years down the road.”
The rest of the rebuild will happen over the course of the year, with researchers and the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation involved. (Attempts to reach the First Nation for this article were not successful.)
In 2022, Scotty Creek became one of the world’s first fully Indigenous-led research stations. Sonnentag says the rebuild is an opportunity to involve the First Nation in recreating Scotty Creek right from the start.
“How do we set up the stuff? What are these measurements about? What do we want to accomplish?” He said, listing questions the university and First Nation can answer together.
“But also, we’re learning from [the First Nation about] how to be on the land, how to move around on the land, what is observed.”